The interaction of resource availability and disturbance can strongly affect plant species richness and the spread of exotic plants. Several ecological theories posit that disturbance mediates the richness-reducing effects of increased competition as resource levels rise. In the low-nutrient serpentine grasslands of the San Francisco Bay Area, the fertilizing effects of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition may threaten native species by promoting nitrophilic exotic grasses. Attempts to mitigate these N deposition effects have focused on cattle grazing as a strategy to reduce exotic grass cover. We simulated realistic N deposition increases with low-level fertilization, manipulated grazing with fencing, and monitored grazing intensity using camera traps in a 4 yr factorial experiment to assess the effects of grazing and N deposition on several measures of native and exotic species dynamics in California's largest serpentine grassland. Our results suggest that native species diversity may increase slightly under low-level N deposition with moderate grazing in this system. However, grazing may not be effective at limiting exotic cover as N accumulates in the future. Examination of treatment trajectories using principal response curves indicated that responses to grazing might be determined more by functional group (forb or grass) than origin (native or exotic). Grazing intensity varied dramatically within the single stocking rate used to manage this ecosystem. Given this variation and the contrasting effects of grazing on different functional groups, more targeted management may be required to improve conservation outcomes.
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